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Culture

Fewer European Couples Tying the Knot

Marriage is on the wane all over Europe, as couples prefer living together to walking down the aisle, according to a study published Thursday.

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Why are we the only ones here?

While wedding bells are ringing for fewer Europeans overall, altars are getting downright dusty in some countries as national differences across the continent remain marked, a study by France's National Institute of Demographic Studies (INED) found.

Some 38 percent of women and 30 percent of men in Germany see marriage as a necessary part of living together, according to a recent study conducted by the Federal Statistics Office.

The INED survey of 20 European countries found three main reasons for the trend: People tend to form stable, long-term relationships later in life; they are more inclined to move in together without getting married; and they are less bothered about cementing their union in marriage later on.

Couples breaki n g up more ofte n

Symbolbild Scheidung

I'll take half of that, thank you very much

Despite experiencing relationships and living together before marriage, couples are apparently no better equipped to get along after pronouncing their vows, according to the INED.

The study pointed out that a higher cohabitation rate is generally matched by a higher divorce rate and that couples in Europe break up more readily than they used to.

"New conjugal practices appeared in the late 1960s in Scandinavia, notably in Sweden, and then gradually spread across Europe," noted France Prioux, author of the INED study. She added that society no longer draws major distinctions between married and unmarried couples.

"But the trends are going in the same direction everywhere," she added. "There is still great variety in how couples live, and how long they stay together, from country to country."

North-south marriage divide

Begehrter Hochzeitstag: 9.9.99

A much more common scene in southern Europe

While the proportion of cohabitations that ultimately lead to marriage has fallen dramatically in Scandinavia -- less than a tenth of Swedish couples tie the knot after living together for two years -- it has risen in Spain and Italy, showing that "these countries remain attached to the institution of marriage," according to Prioux.

The duration of relationships is also on the decline all over Europe, but their average length still varies markedly from country to country, with the north-south divide again very much in evidence.

In 2003, more than half of Swedish, Belgian and Finnish marriages could be expected to end in divorce, compared to less than a fifth in Greece and Italy.

Between those extremes, France "is beginning to look more and more like the Nordic countries," Prioux noted, while Germany and Austria "also seem to have adopted unmarried cohabitation as a norm, while remaining keen on marriage, especially when the couple has children."

Hochzeit mit Ehering

Many couples would rather live together than exchange wedding bands

"Fewer reaso n s to get married"

One third of children are born out of wedlock, six times higher than was the case 35 years ago. Sweden and Greece are again at the extremes, reaching 56 percent and 4 percent, respectively. France, with 48 percent, and Germany at 28 percent fill out the middle ground, according to Eurostat, the European Union's statistics office.

"Much of it has to do with the modernization of women's role," Dirk Konietzka, who coauthor of a survey conducted in 2003 by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research told the Christia n Scie n ce Mo n itor. "There are fewer reasons to get married."

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